'Lord, That I May Flunk'
(Editor's Note: This is a reprint of an article that first appeared in the Spring 1972 Glenmary Challenge. Father Charlie passed away Sept. 23, 2015.)
By Glenmary Father Charles Hughes
"Boy! Are you lucky you didn't flunk Latin!" The dateline on that statement in my life was Thursday, Nov. 4, 1954. That was the day, about three in the afternoon, when Ed Sanders was baptized. Convicted of murder, he died the following day in the electric chair at the Georgia State Prison.
Ed was 55 years old. I was 26. He was the first adult I had ever baptized. He told me that I was the first Catholic priest he had ever seen.
The day we met we couldn't do much—just shake hands and exchange names. Both of us were nervous, I suppose. Before the end of our brief conversation that first day, I remember asking, "Do you think it might be a good idea if I come back tomorrow so we can talk a little bit about God?"
Then on the way home, a trip of 36 miles, I realized the challenge Ed had given me when he said, "Okay." Ed was a poor sharecropper who could scarcely read or write. To hand him a book or a catechism and tell him to study these while I was gone was out of the question. I would have to do it all.
Suppose, instead of it being me, it were you who walked up to Ed's cell on the fifth floor of the prison for the first time in the fall of 1954. Ed would be real. He'd have eyes to see what you could show him, and ears to hear what you would say, and you would have three weeks till.... What would you have said or done?
If you would have been anything like I was during those three weeks, you would have learned in a special way some very valuable things about yourself and your faith. Every day for the next three weeks, I spent between two and three hours with Ed. We were discovering God in a way that neither of us had ever discovered him before.
So the day of Ed's baptism was a day of special joy. Surprisingly, my mind flashed back to 1945. I was a senior in high school at that time, thinking of becoming a priest. In fact, I used to pray that I would fail Latin. I couldn't stop studying, because that would have been unfair. But if I studied and failed anyhow, that would be a sure sign that I didn't have to worry about becoming a priest. So I prayed for that.
But I passed and went on to college and the seminary, and I don't recall ever thinking about this again until the day of Ed's baptism. With all that it cost in effort and sacrifice to be a priest, it was well worth it to be given the privilege of being Ed's friend, of being of some help to him as he discovered God, and of having the privilege of learning much from him about life and death.
It really wasn't luck as much as Blessing, Gift, Providence, Presence, or whatever you might like to call it. But I think you can know what I mean when I say that, 17 years later, with all that it takes to be a priest today, I could easily and gratefully change the dateline to spring 1972 and say, "Boy! Are you lucky you didn't flunk Latin!"
Won't you join us this spring to pray that God will inspire many young Americans to dedicate their lives as Glenmary missioners? Thank you! If enough men would make this choice, we could put a priest in each of the counties of No Priest Land, USA.